Career email Organization

Drawing Lines Around Your Day

Lines Color
Credit: flickr / dOOnLoL

Arriving, stressed, on a Monday morning the other week I decided to shut the mail tab on my browser, with no intention of opening it again. This impromptu panic started a new thing – I’m checking (work) email at most once a day, if I have a meeting. No meeting days – usually one a week – are now even better than before. I think I’m more productive, but it’s hard to quantify. Those half an hour chunks which seemed only good for going through email turn out to be surprisingly productive.

I’m definitely happier and less stressed out by my inbox. I appreciate the good things that arrived (my patent is going through! Yay!) and get less stressed by the bad things. It could be the novelty – we’ll see how that goes. People are supportive of my eccentricity with respect to my inbox. It’s hardly a secret that I loathe email, and I’ve managed to keep the volume low by sending as little as possible.

The worse thing that happens is that I miss something important, but if it’s that important someone will IM me. I missed meeting someone when they emailed at the last minute, which was unfortunate, but hardly the end of the world. The tradeoffs that seemed so worrying turn out to not be very bad at all.

I think, though, that what really makes me happier is that I’m drawing lines around my day, which means that I feel more in control. It’s like not taking my laptop home with me after work. I could take it home with me and not work, which a lot of people seem to, but by not taking it home I don’t even give myself the option. It’s not, “oh I could catch up on X but I want to read my book instead” – it’s “I’m home now, what do I want to do?”

Of course, there’s a lot of things which I don’t define as work which others might – and my personal laptop carries more than it’s share of guilt. Events to attend. Talks to prepare and papers to write. This blog. What’s important to me is that whilst I might be stressed out by having too much on, I’m not stressed out by my job. I’ve drawn a clear line in my head between what is my job, and what is not – even if it’s professionally helpful to me.

There’s a few people at work who are legendary for their balance. They probably call it something different, but interacting with them I see that they too draw lines around their day. This is when I go home. I don’t work at the weekend.

Those people legendary for balance? Also incredibly productive.

My view is that that I work as long as I’ll be productive, then I leave. I don’t work later than that – at best, I borrow productivity from tomorrow. At worst, I do that and mess things up that I have to fix tomorrow. As a result, sometimes I leave at 4, sometimes I leave at 7. Overall, I don’t think I do more than 45 hours a week.

I’m not sure it matters too much what the lines are, or where you draw them. The point is, to have some – you’ll be happier for the control.

What lines do you draw around your day?

2 replies on “Drawing Lines Around Your Day”

Hum, interesting post. I’ve been following your blog recently, and meant to make some comments, but didn’t know where to start… I never had much to say on other posts. But not so on this one.

I know exactly what you mean. I too draw some big lines and divisions, not necessarily just in terms of time, but in other aspects. So for example, I have two separate gmail accounts, blogs, twitter accounts, for work and personal stuff. In part for productivity reasons (so as to not get distracted with personal stuff at work), but also for privacy and professionalism (some of the stuff I post on my personal blog and twitter should really not go to work related environment ^_^’ )

I also have that line about not bringing work to home… but in my case it’s not that I was the one who actively “draw the line” but rather it’s more the circumstances that make it so upon me. When I go back home (room to be more precise, I live in a flatshare :P), it becomes really hard to focus on work, even if I want to. There is just too many distractions and geek stuff and whatnot on my room. From your post this might look like a good thing, and it may be so if you have a normal job (which I often did), but now I am working from home so it actually becomes an issue… I actually set up a separate computer (my docked laptop, with another monitor, keyboard, etc.) just for work, to keep things distinct and keep me focused on work on my work time. (originally I was thinking of just having a different user on my personal computer, but decided to go even further than that)

As for the email stuff, can’t say I share that dislike for it, and I do check my inbox more often during the day. But I do admit I do have some issues with procrastination. Well, not necessarily procrastination per se, but sometimes I have an almost like OCD preference to deal with very small tasks first, and leave the bigger ones for later. Which is not good if the bigger ones are more important and more prioritary, even if the small ones do have to be made at some point…

It’s easy to feel like if you cross of the small niggling things you’ll be able to better focus on the big, important ones. Sometimes it’s true – not as often as we think, though 🙂

Thanks for commenting! It’s good to know others have different versions of this system. I think it’s really important to feel like you have control over your day – how you do that, less so!

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